“Doc asked me if I knew how to prepare a study skin and said we should sit down and do it,” Jackson said.
The creature was dissected in short order over lunch. Jackson detailed Sutton’s life from earliest childhood to his death in 1982. At age 13 in rural Nebraska a friendly local physician had recognized his young neighbor’s artistic talent and encouraged him by paying a penny each for sketches. Images of several of Sutton’s early nature magazine covers were projected on a screen along with his first book cover titled “Eskimo Year” published in 1934.
Jackson noted the unique accuracy Sutton displayed in his paintings with an eye for light and keen awareness of subtle differences in birds’ feather colors.
His career wasn’t limited to just fine art and academics.
Sutton also had a gig drawing fish for a series of trading cards called “The World of Nature” that was produced by Coca Cola Corporation in the late 1940s.
Little of his fine art was ever sold by dealers and Jackson related a woman telling him that her family owned an original Sutton painting. He asked how they’d come to acquire it.
“She said her father-in-law had been Sutton’s physician when he’d been at Cornell University,” Jackson said.
The doctor was an amateur calligrapher and showed Sutton some of his work.
A trade was worked out wherein Sutton painted a border of chipmunks, turtles and goldfinches around the “Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi” in calligraphy. And that was the original work that the woman’s family owns.
The prayer is one that asks God to guard with tenderness the small creatures of the world that have not words. Highly appropriate because it was tenderness for the little beasties in deed and art that Sutton devoted an entire lifetime to.
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